Tag Archives: editing

What do authors really want from their editors?

By Kasia Trojanowska

What motivates you in your job? What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you open a manuscript you’re about to start working on? When sparring with an author client over points of style or the order of chapters, who or what is at the forefront of your mind? Is it the reader? The text? Is it your professional ego (however unacknowledged)? Or is it, perhaps, the author?

I’m going to be bold here and submit that success of any professional in any job comes down to the success of the relationships they can build. ‘Know your clients’ is being drummed into us as the single most important rule of business. Who are those clients? And what do they really want from editors they invite into their creative process?

Not long ago, I met with one such client group – writers. I asked them about their expectations and worries around working with an editor and, very generously, they responded. There was a lot for me to digest, not least one biting comment from an author feeling like they were just ‘a mark for additional income on the side’. Ouch! I hope none of my clients ever said that about working with me, I thought.

So let’s look at the feedback in a bit more detail. Several themes came through particularly strongly: collaboration, expertise, empathy and trust. Of those, the majority aren’t easily quantifiable. It’s hard to know after just one email exchange what it’s going to be like to collaborate on a book edit, which can take months. But I believe it is worth trying. In the authors’ words: ‘I’ve always wanted a collaborative effort with somebody honest and enthusiastic’; ‘I would prefer to have an active part in all decisions regarding editing’; ‘I would expect a partner’.

An interesting insight for me was that, perhaps contrary to what myriad self-publishing services would have us believe, the traditional publishing route is still the goal for many authors, even those just entering the field. For that, they need to impress the gatekeepers – agents and commissioning editors: ‘Agents can be very picky.’ A helpful steer is what they’d seek from an editor: ‘I would like to work with a well-connected editor who can help me get published’, ‘I think the editor needs to have an in-depth understanding of what agents and publishers require’ and ‘I’d want someone with … an eye on the market to … give [my work] its best chance of publishing success’. This type of service can come in the form of agent introductions, collaborations with various publishers or providing well-researched, well-grounded market advice. What that would mean for an editor is cultivating relationships in the publishing world: networking, learning the ropes (by taking part in seminars, webinars, book launches, author meetings), going to conferences and being aware of the latest publishing trends. It can add another string to your bow and quite an exciting one at that.

Perhaps less surprisingly, authors are also interested in the more down-to-earth editing know-how: ‘guidance on structure and plot’, ‘help [me] polish the work’, ‘make sure that the work is structurally and grammatically correct’, ‘an informed point of view’. These are all skills we learn by taking part in CIEP courses and other editorial training.

Then, there are the concerns of putting their work into the hands of another. These to me centre around that most intangible of qualities, trust. ‘How to find a good editor?’ was a theme that came through a lot in the comments: ‘finding the right chemistry and a mutual respect’, ‘I worry that I might get the wrong editor who won’t see the book the way I do’, ‘[I’d worry] that the working relationship wouldn’t be strong’. I feel these come down to what the artist Louise Bourgeois called ‘the final achievement … communication with a person.’*

When I shared with her that I was working on this blog, writer Lauren McMenemy responded with an elegant reflection:

‘The relationship between author and editor is almost as important as that between the author and their story. The editor is the one that can get the piece polished – not perfected – and ready to set free, which is the author’s goal. The delicate balance between helpful and pushy is one the editor must carefully tread, but we as authors must also be in a mindset to trust our editor and know that we’re both working towards making the piece the best it can be.’

Taking the time to understand our client and their needs, having clear terms of service (so that both sides know what to expect) and making sure they feel they can trust our editorial expertise are all at the heart of a fulfilling relationship with our authors. If you can top that up with advice about what can get an agent interested and what can help an author get a foot in the door and win them a publishing deal, you’re guaranteed a host of satisfied clients. And your professional ego will thank you, too!


*Cited in Siri Hustvedt (2017) A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women, London: Sceptre, 27.

I thank Sutton Writers, who hosted me at their meeting in January 2020 and provided invaluable insights which inspired this blog. Lauren McMenemy is one of the group’s coordinators.

If you’re an author worried about finding the right editor for your work, I’ve got some tips on ‘How to find an editor’.

Kasia TrojanowskaKasia Trojanowska is a copy-editor, proofreader and text designer, an Advanced Professional Member of CIEP. She’s incurably curious about the world of publishing and is always looking for ways to be more helpful to the editorial and writer communities. She writes about all things editorial on her website.

 


Searching for an editor? Browse the CIEP’s directory of experienced editors.


Photo credits: Cogs by Bill Oxford; pencils by Joanna Kosinska, both on Unsplash

Proofread by Andrew Macdonald Powney, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

 

Blog post round-up

By Sarah Dronfield

There is a Facebook group for editors, Editors’ Association of Earth, in which I share a weekly round-up of editorial blog posts. If I read articles or listen to podcasts that I think will help editors and proofreaders with their continuing professional development (CPD), then they go into my round-up. They might be aimed at improving editorial skills and knowledge or they might give tips on marketing, for example.

It seems a shame that CIEP members who don’t use Facebook might be missing out on this opportunity for CPD. So, here is a round-up of some of the best posts and podcasts from 2020 so far.

The editor–author relationship

What do you do when you receive a request for proofreading, but it soon becomes apparent that the manuscript will need editing? Richard Bradburn can help you navigate this tricky situation.

As well as establishing the level of work required, there are other key questions that we should ask potential clients. Jo Johnston covers them here.

What about once you’ve agreed to work together? In this post, Pádraig Hanratty describes editing as a collaborative process and explores, step by step, how we can establish a good editor–author relationship. And this post, by Aaron Dalton, focuses on how to write effective editorial comments.

Sometimes, no matter how good the relationship, things do go wrong. Liz Jones details strategies that can help us cope with criticism. And here Erin Brenner explains how to write an apology letter to a client that may help regain their trust.

Imposter syndrome

This is something that even affects experienced editors from time to time. It is addressed here by Lisa de Caux. And here, Adrienne Montgomerie lists ten actions to fight it.

Efficiency

Learning to use keyboard shortcuts in Word can save you a lot of time. If, like me, you find that there are some you can never remember, it helps to have a list handy. Louise Harnby has kindly provided this one (for PC).

Editing and inconsistency

When editing, we usually try to ensure consistency; however, when dealing with numbers in creative writing, readability is more important. Carol Saller explains when to break the style rules.

Scams

There are various ways in which scammers target editors. One scam to look out for is the Frankenedit. This is when someone approaches multiple editors asking for a free sample edit of different parts of their manuscript in the hope that they will be able to have their entire manuscript edited for free. One way to combat this is to request the whole manuscript so that you can select the sample material yourself.

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter has a warning about some other scams.

Your website

These days, most of us have our own websites. When did you last check and update yours? Nate Hoffelder suggests some questions to ask yourself when refreshing your editor website.

Running and growing an editing and proofreading business

Denise Cowle and Louise Harnby regularly team up to host The Editing Podcast. They recently asked listeners to submit questions about anything they needed help with. The result was two episodes (around an hour each) packed with useful information and advice. Part 1 also contains a little mystery: what is that creaking sound? Don’t worry, all is revealed in Part 2!

In Part 1 they discuss topics such as contracts, invoicing, networking and marketing, and in Part 2 they answer questions about training, choosing a business name and managing imposter syndrome. Follow the links for the complete list of topics covered, and to listen.

COVID-19

Understandably, many people have been blogging about the pandemic, for example, how it has affected them and their work, and tips on getting through lockdown. Although some countries are beginning to come out of lockdown, we aren’t going to see a return to normality any time soon, so it’s useful to know how others have been coping with the situation.

There has been a certain amount of pressure to be productive in lockdown, but Lisa Cordaro is here to help you weather the silent storm.

Most of us are not new to working from home; however, some of us are now having to cope with sharing our workspace with partners for the first time, and those of us with children need to attempt some form of home schooling. In Part 1 of a blog about lockdown with kids, Claire Bacon shares ways to manage a daily lockdown schedule with children around, and in Part 2 she shares ways to manage stress and look after your mental health as a parent during lockdown. In a recent thread in the CIEP forums, members who are also parents shared the ways in which they are coping, or not; Cathy Tingle summarises that discussion here. (I contributed to that thread; my son is the Captain Underpants fan.)

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter has advice for those who are alone in quarantine times, and she points out that enforced isolation is not the same as isolation by choice.

Whether we live alone or not, no one is experiencing business as usual. Jennifer Lawler has some thoughts on steps we can take to build resilience in our work and our personal lives, and Erin Brenner also has tips on how freelancers can weather the crisis. And, in this episode of her Edit Boost podcast, Malini Devadas talks about managing emotions and a freelance business in uncertain times.

Andy Coulson has compiled a list of technology-based or focused resources that may be of use during this time.

And finally, the CIEP’s wise owls have some advice and thoughts based on their own experiences during the pandemic so far.

Sarah Dronfield is a Professional Member of the CIEP. She is a fiction editor based in South Wales. She did many things before finally becoming an editor: office admin, archaeology, travelling. These days, when not editing or home schooling, she can usually be found reading.

 


Photo credits: Begin by Danielle MacInnes; desk with headphones by Michael Soledad, both on Unsplash

Proofread by Andrew Macdonald Powney, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

My year in books

By Abi Saffrey

At the end of each financial year, I reflect on the projects I’ve worked on, the clients I’ve worked with, the money I’ve earned and the money I’ve spent. It struck me at some point in 2019 that perhaps I could do a similar review of what I’ve read over the same span of time. So I set up a spreadsheet and logged the books I read for pleasure and those I edited and proofread. Time and sanity limitations meant I did not log everything I edited, or anything I read that wasn’t a book (but The Phoenix Comic is pretty darn good).

Reading was my greatest pleasure for many years, but going freelance and then having children limited my time and energy for it. I missed reading, but not enough to carve out the time for it. For whatever reason, 2019 was the year that I decided to JUST READ MORE.

April 2019

I copyedited two social science books for a regular client. And I managed a grand total of THREE books for pleasure, all short and very different from each other.

May 2019

I didn’t edit any books this month – I finished writing a guide to Editorial Project Management for the (then) SfEP, and worked on a fair few journal articles. I didn’t read much outside work either.

June 2019

I copyedited two books on subjects that I’m passionate about: climate change and gender inequality. This was the month when I set myself a reading challenge: to read my way through the alphabet (using authors’ surnames), selecting books available in my local library and by ‘new to me’ authors. I managed A–D over the month.

July 2019

Workwise, my focus in July was on student and teacher materials. And I didn’t read ANY books for pleasure. Sorry.

August 2019

A reduced workload because of the school holidays – journal articles only. I might not have read much this month, but I did get to spend two weeks in and around beautiful Tenby. August is my birthday month and, for the first time I can remember, I got NO books for my birthday. I did get some book tokens though, which I stashed away …

September 2019

Back to work with a bang and three books on my desk: political scandal to proofread; sociology and education theory to copyedit. A disappointing one letter crossed off my alphabet.

  • Reef, by Romesh Gunesekera (I have a vivid memory of reading this while sat in the playground at Audley End House)

October 2019

One book to copyedit (social science), two books for fun (and NO letters crossed off my alphabet, tsk tsk).

  • The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell (I started this in September, and read some in my downtime at the SfEP conference … but it’s long and complicated)
  • After Me Comes the Flood, by Sarah Perry (finished this one while on holiday in Tromsø – happy days)

November 2019

I copyedited three books in November, all related to welfare, social policy and politics – with those and being involved in a general election campaign, it was an exhausting month. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was no time for self-indulgent escapism.

December 2019

I started work on a contributed volume about South Sudanese objects (I’m still working on it now – May 2020); it is so different to my normal social sciences fare. A welcome distraction after an election that didn’t go the way I’d hoped. I managed to read three books on my own time – the joys of taking some time off over the festive period (alphabet challenge stowed away for another time at this point).

January 2020

I proofread one book – politics – in January, and it prompted me to buy (and read) another book in the series. I also set myself a new reading challenge (after some discussion with my accountability group): to read for 30 minutes a day on five days in each week. I nearly always ended up reading for longer than that, and it meant I ploughed through the pages. There is a slot in my day between collecting/taxiing children and preparing dinner – it tends to be filled with social media and internet browsing in a comfy chair, so I would leave my book on that chair and my phone in my coat pocket.

I went to Amsterdam for a weekend – so a Lonely Planet pocket guide snuck in here too.

February 2020

One copyedit this month – colonialisation, not a cheery read. I counteracted that by carrying on with my 30-min reading challenge, and I even managed to tick FOUR more letters off my alphabet.

March 2020

March’s one book copyedit was on support and health workers across the globe. I finally spent my birthday book tokens – on the paperback editions of Gretchen McCulloch’s Because Internet, and Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez, both of which I’d been lusting after since their hardback release. I also treated myself to The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy, which was the last book I read before the COVID-19 pandemic. I haven’t been able to focus on books in my free time since.

That year in numbers

So I read 31 books for pleasure:

  • I bought five secondhand, one was a gift, one was nicked off my mum’s bookshelves.
  • I bought ten new (one hardback, eight paperbacks and one ebook), and one had been on my e-reader for at least five years.
  • I borrowed 13 from my local library.
  • There were 19 fiction books and 12 non-fiction books.

I copyedited 15 books, and proofread two. I also dipped into two other books for CPD purposes: What Editors Do (edited by Peter Ginna) and Developmental Editing (by Scott Norton).

End-of-year summary

I’d hoped that I’d find some revelation about my reading habits and trends, or even find that my ‘to be read’ pile would be smaller. Or that I learned something profound and life-changing. But I didn’t, and it isn’t, and … I will leave social media soon(ish). I will definitely keep noting down what I read – reviewing my list and writing this post have brought back so many memories of where I was when I was reading each book.

I’d like to say I’ll go back and read some of these again, but I won’t. There are so many other books out there that need me to read them and I don’t want to set another challenge that I’ll give up on when I get distracted by the next one. Anyway, these are the ones I loved the most in my financial year 2019/20:

  • The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell – so beautifully crafted, and it presents an all too real future for us.
  • On Writing by Stephen King – I’m never going to read his novels and I’m never going to write a book but I loved the essential message that ran throughout: reading is the best way to learn to write.
  • Melmoth by Sarah Perry – it’s pretty close between this and Here Comes the Flood. Her writing sucks me in every time (The Essex Serpent is also compulsive reading, but I read that in 2018).

Abi Saffrey is an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP. She reads books to earn a living and to keep her imagination alive. She’s wondering when the library will open again so she can look at the ‘L’ section of the fiction shelves. She boycotts Amazon.

 

 


If you’re wondering which book to read next, peruse the CIEP’s book reviews.


Photo note: I read Paul Dolan’s Happiness by Design in February 2019 and Matt Haig’s Notes on a Nervous Planet in March 2019, but they cheekily snuck their way into the class of 2019/20 photo.

Proofread by Alice McBrearty, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Why general knowledge is not a trivial pursuit

By Julia Sandford-Cooke

A TV producer friend once told me that he was learning Icelandic to keep his brain active because his job wasn’t intellectually stimulating enough. I found this astonishing, as it’s not a problem we editorial professionals report very often. This itself is probably astonishing to certain people outside our industry, who like to tell us that all we do is spot typos and otherwise engage our brains very little. Of course, we need to know grammatical rules well enough to apply them to our projects – and also well enough to be confident about when to break those rules. But, as is made obvious each year at the conference quiz, many editors have a vast and varied general knowledge. Not even my extensive familiarity with obscure song lyrics has been enough to beat certain erudite colleagues to the coveted title of Winning Team.

It’s often the quirky, stylistic anomalies that stick in our minds; for example, it’s Spider-Man but Batman and Iron Man (you’d be surprised how often knowing that has been useful in my work).
But we also represent that unfashionable but, in my opinion, vital concept – gatekeepers of quality. Many of us are subject specialists, perhaps as a result of previous jobs, often with as much in-depth understanding of our area as our authors – and sometimes more.

But a good general knowledge is also a valuable asset in our line of work. We editors are an inquisitive bunch, always interested in learning something new. If we don’t understand an argument or trust a fact in a manuscript, neither will our readers. We might raise an author query, but frequently, we don’t have enough time or access to the author to await their response, so we simply need to check for ourselves.

On a day-to-day basis then, as far as essential editorial tools go, Google is right up there with PerfectIt. Other search engines are, of course, available, but ‘to google’ is now a transitive verb sufficiently common to be an effective, lowercase shorthand for ‘carrying out an internet search’. Google itself reportedly discourages the term, preferring ‘to search with Google’. I fear, however, that it is far too late to retrieve that particular phrase from the black hole of the internet.

While thinking about all this, I realised just how often I google words and phrases in the course of my work, so I started to keep a log of what I’d searched for, and what I’d found out. The list that follows is just a taster – I’ve omitted or slightly changed some examples to maintain client confidentiality. Note too that these days even editors accept that normal capitalisation and punctuation don’t apply to internet searches.


Term: turn on word spell check

Why? Mental block. I’m updating a brochure about my town, Fakenham, for a friend. I’m using last year’s text as a basis, but on a previous project I’d switched off Word’s functionality for checking spelling as I type. Now I can’t remember how to turn it back on!

Outcome: The top link is from Microsoft, the horse’s mouth, and all the information I need appears on the search page. It’s File/Options/Proofing/Check spelling as I type. The red squiggles reappear. Hoorah!


Term: james beck auctions

Why? I need to increase the number of attractions in the brochure from 15 to 20 (my friend wants ‘20 attractions for 2020’), so I’m splitting up the market and auction entry and want to lengthen the auction text by about 20 words.

Outcome: The search took me straight to the auction house’s website, which confirmed the numbers and types of items typically up for auction. New text covered. Success!


Term: hempton bell

Why? I’m checking the name of the local pub known for its folk jam sessions.

Outcome: Its URL is thehemptonbell.co.uk but the text on the website is The Bell Public House. I’ll go with The Hempton Bell, which is what locals call it, to avoid the current wordiness of ‘the Bell Public House in nearby Hempton’ …


Term: fakenham christmas tree festival 2020

Why? Last year’s text states last year’s Christmas Tree Festival dates. Fakenham established one of the first Christmas tree festivals in the country about 20 years ago, and now it makes thousands of pounds for charities and the church, so I want to ensure this year’s dates are correct.

Outcome: Rare Google fail. The parish church website doesn’t state this year’s dates yet, and nor does anywhere else, so I’ll add a query to the text.


Term: arts and crafts fakenham

Why? I need another entry to make it a round 20. How about art? I know there’s a ‘have a go’ crafts shop, and an annual Norfolk and Norwich art trail, but is there anything else?

Outcome: Hmm, the results reveal only the shop I was thinking of, plus (inevitably) The Works chain for art supplies, and a picture framer. That’s not enough.


Term: norfolk and norwich open studios

Why? This is my favourite event of year but not many artists participate in my town.

Outcome: It takes me to the event’s website but the search mechanism there doesn’t allow me to search by location so I have to download last year’s brochure. I search the PDF for ‘Fakenham’ but only one artist was based in the town. Forget that idea, then! What else does Fakenham offer?


Term: pensthorpe norfolk

Why? I read the brief again and my friend had suggested including Pensthorpe Natural Park,
a tourist attraction on the outskirts of town.

Outcome: The search takes me directly to the website, where there’s plenty to fill 50 words.
I’d forgotten that BBC’s Springwatch was filmed there a few years ago. Job done.


Term: Neprajzi Muzeum artefacts

Why? A client with whom I’m working on a new edition of a travel guide to Budapest has heard that one of the main attractions, which we knew was relocating, won’t reopen until 2022. No photos of the new building are available. We only have photos of the original building, which are now wrong.

I wonder if we can use photos of some of the major artefacts, as they will probably still be on display when the museum does finally reopen.

Outcome: The image search revealed some distinctive artefacts so I suggest we include these, which would avoid having to restructure the book to accommodate a new (as-yet unspecified) attraction to fill the space. The updater of the book later copies me into an email to the client suggesting the same thing, and the client agrees. Success! Now it’s up to the poor picture researcher to source appropriate photos.


Term: karpatia restaurant budapest

Why? Are the accents correct in Kárpátia? It also appears as Kárpàtia in the text.

Outcome: Kárpátia is correct. I amend the text.

 


Term: musee picasso

Why? In a Paris guide this time, I need to amend a photo caption to something more meaningful. The image showed a gallery in the museum but the picture credit only includes the name of the museum, not the artwork that is featured.

Outcome: I can’t find any images of the exact gallery, but reviews and descriptions say it’s a calm and peaceful place to view Picasso’s art, so I incorporate that into the caption.


Term: THE Steak House Circus Circus

Why? Are those weird capitals correct in this Las Vegas travel guide?

Outcome: Apparently so. Hoorah for branding.


Term: edingburgh castle

Why? The source image seems to show the whole city, not the castle specifically.

Outcome: ‘Showing results for edinburgh castle. Search instead for edingburgh castle?’ Yes, thank you for patronising me, Google. But it was indeed an image of the whole city. I add a query to the PDF.


Term: personal care elderly frail

Why? I’m editing a report that contains this rather depersonalised phrase. Is it in common use?

Outcome: The search suggests not. I will change the text to ‘personal care for frail elderly people’ but will add a query to confirm whether the original phrase is acceptable.


Term: is bristol in north somerset

Why? I’m from Bristol originally and I’m pretty sure it’s a county in itself. I know it’s certainly not in the long-obsolete Avon, a common mistake that drives me crazy.

Outcome: Bristol is indeed a county (and/or a unitary authority), its population twice as large as the two bordering counties, South Gloucestershire and Bath & North East Somerset (is the ampersand correct? Google doesn’t have a definitive answer to that).


Term: rail services patchway

Why? Is there a station in Patchway?

Outcome: Yes, there is.


Term: CrossCountry and GWR lines

Why? Is the brand for CrossCountry rail services one camelbacked word?

Outcome: Yes, it is.


Term: Supportive of or supportive to

Why? In a proofread, the text reads ‘the parents are supportive to the child’ but I would normally expect to see ‘supportive of’. Is ‘to’ common in such a context?

Outcome: I find a website that says ‘of’ is a much more common construction. However, another web forum suggests ‘towards’ as an alternative, which I think fits the context better. I change the text accordingly.


Term: IDE (Integrated Development Environment)

Why? I don’t think the definition should be capitalised but it might be a branded or copyright expression.

Outcome: It’s not. Lowercase.


Term: lower case

Why? Mental block – is lowercase one word?

Outcome: ‘According to The Associated Press Stylebook and the Microsoft Manual of Style, you should write “lowercase” as one word when being used as an adjective and as a noun.’ So there you go. I check my PDF mark-up.


Term: personal identification number

Why? Is this what PIN stands for, rather than ‘personal identity number’?

Outcome: Various sources say so. Wikipedia (which incidentally always needs to be backed up with another source) has an amusingly passive-aggressive answer: ‘A personal identification number, or sometimes redundantly a PIN number … ’


So what can we conclude from this little experiment? A few things, I think:

  • Although we’re rarely asked specifically to check facts, it’s always worthwhile maintaining an open, questioning approach so that we can pick up on anything that doesn’t quite ring true. Perhaps ironically, the more you know, the more you question and the more you find yourself verifying the text.
  • Taking 30 seconds to search the internet takes much less time and effort than reflexively raising an author query. As an occasional author myself, I’d much prefer my editor to proactively check something that doesn’t sound right instead of just asking me, as long as I have the chance to see any amendments afterwards.
  • That said, the internet doesn’t provide all the answers. Sometimes, we do need to use other sources, such as the CIEP forums, the client, the author or subject specialists.
  • Our work exposes us to a huge volume and variety of information. It’s a form of continuous professional development (CPD) – on-the-job learning with the side benefit of a mental library of interesting facts.
  • Fluency in Icelandic is optional.

Julia Sandford-CookeJulia Sandford-Cooke of WordFire Communications has 20 years’ experience of publishing and marketing. She has written and edited numerous textbooks, specialising in vocational education, media studies, construction, health and safety, and travel. Her team has twice won the Fakenham Library quiz; her quiz superpower is song lyrics.

 


Photo credits: jukebox – Alex Holyoake; Christmas tree Aurelio Arantes; Budapest – Lucas Davies; Clifton suspension bridge – Nathan Riley, all on Unsplash

Proofread by Alice McBrearty, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

In your own words

By Claire Bacon

How to recognise and avoid plagiarism

Plagiarism is a serious offence which can damage a writer’s professional reputation. In many cases, researchers are not aware of plagiarism in their research papers. Understanding what plagiarism is and how to avoid it could save published work from retraction. In this post, I explain the different types of plagiarism and give tips on how to recognise and address them when editing.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism means presenting the results and ideas of somebody else as your own. The AMA Manual of Style1 describes four types of plagiarism: direct plagiarism, mosaic plagiarism, paraphrasing and insufficient acknowledgement.

Direct plagiarism is using exactly the same words as somebody else without quotation marks or without crediting the original author. For example:

Plagiarised: We believe that researchers do not claim the words and ideas of another as their own; they give credit where credit is due.

Not plagiarised: As stated in the sixth edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, ‘Researchers do not claim the words and ideas of another as their own; they give credit where credit is due.’

Mosaic plagiarism combines ideas and opinions of somebody else with your own, without crediting the author. Take a look at the following paragraph:

Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer-related death worldwide. In 90% of cases, lung cancer is caused by long-term tobacco smoking, but some cases have been reported in people who have never smoked. In this prospective study, we investigated the effect of avoiding smoking on the incidence of lung cancer in a large European cohort.

In this example, the phrase highlighted in bold has been copied directly from another source and no citation has been given. You can fix this by rewording the sentence and citing the appropriate reference:

Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer-related death worldwide. The majority of cases are caused by long-term tobacco smoking (Smith et al. 2016), but some cases have been reported in people who have never smoked. In this prospective study, we investigated the effect of avoiding smoking on the incidence of lung cancer in a large European cohort.

Paraphrasing is rewording sentences and retaining the original meaning without crediting the author. This is an easy mistake to make but describing an idea in your own words does not make the idea your own – credit must still be given to the original author. If the Smith et al. 2016 reference were removed from the example above, this would be an example of plagiarism by paraphrasing.

Insufficient acknowledgement is not citing the source material. This means the reader cannot distinguish between your ideas and those of others. For example:

Plagiarised: CD200 influences the outcome of organ transplantation in animal models. In this study, we explored the impact of CD200 on post-transplantation outcome in human recipients.

Not plagiarised: CD200 influences the outcome of organ transplantation in animal models (Glaser et al. 2018; Jones et al. 2019). In this study, we explored the impact of CD200 on post-transplantation outcome in human recipients.

Avoiding plagiarism by insufficient acknowledgement can be tricky because common knowledge does not need to be cited in a research paper. Nobody would cite Watson and Crick’s 1953 publication when describing the structure of DNA, for example. But it’s not always clear what is common knowledge and what isn’t. Something that is well known to an author may not be so well known to readers who are not experts in the field. In this case, it is better to be safe than sorry. If you are unsure whether a fact is common knowledge or not, ask the author to include the citation.

The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association2 also describes self-plagiarism, which is presenting an author’s previously published results and ideas as new. Writers are often surprised to learn they can plagiarise their own work. To avoid this, ensure the relevant source is cited when referring to results and conclusions that have already been published.

Now let’s take a closer look at why authors plagiarise and how you can tackle plagiarism when editing.

Publish or perish (or plagiarise?)

Researchers are under extreme pressure to publish their work. The more papers they publish, the better their chances of securing essential funding to continue their projects. This brutal ‘publish or perish’ scenario is probably the main reason for deliberate plagiarism in academic publishing.

Life is even harder for the non-native English-speaking researcher. They may solve their writing difficulties by searching the existing literature for templates of good-quality writing to use in their own papers. This is often not deliberate plagiarism, but the consequences are still severe. Professional language editors can help avoid this by giving their clients the freedom to write in their own words, safe in the knowledge that their ideas will be clearly expressed after the editing process.

Encourage your clients to think about what they want to say before they start writing. Their manuscript should be centred on a specific research question. The background information that is given, the materials that are used, the results that are presented, and the literature that is discussed should all focus on explaining and answering this question. This template will help your clients to distinguish between their own ideas and those that need to be cited.

Stay out of trouble

Plagiarism is a serious offence which is often committed by accident in research writing. Authors are ultimately responsible for the content they put forward for publication, but editors (and proofreaders) should query anything they suspect may be plagiarised. Keep an eye out for text that is phrased differently from the author’s usual style, and for any facts or figures without sources. Listen to your professional intuition!

1 AMA Manual of Style (10th Edition), page 158.
2 Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th Edition), page 16.

Claire Bacon is a former research scientist and an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP. She edits manuscripts for non-native English-speaking scientists and works as a copyeditor for The Canadian Journal of Anesthesia.

This article was published on Claire’s blog on 28 January 2020. Many thanks to Claire for granting permission to amend and republish it.


On 1 March, the Society for Editors and Proofreaders becomes the Chartered Institute for Editing and Proofreading, following the granting of a royal charter. Read the Chartership FAQs, keep an eye on our social media feeds over the coming days, and next week read the first CIEP blog post!

Twitter: https://twitter.com/thesfep
Facebook: www.facebook.com/EditProof
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/the-ciep/


Photo credits: Books Aaron Burden; Laptop – Glenn Carstens-Peters, both on Unsplash

Proofread by Andrew Macdonald Powney, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.

Scammy editors, cautious editors, and the clients in between

By Kia Thomas

Recently, I received an email from the client whose manuscript I was working on. It said: ‘Just touching base to see if we are still on track for delivery of my manuscript by xx?’

I had given the author no reason to believe we wouldn’t be, so I could have, were I the type to take things overly personally, bristled at the implied questioning of my professionalism. But I hadn’t been in contact for a while (she’d sent the manuscript well before Christmas, but I wasn’t due to start until January), and I knew the author was on a tight schedule, so I sent a quick message back to say yes, still on track, and if I got done a few days early I’d send it back immediately.

I received another email straight away: ‘Wonderful. Thanks for the update. With the last editor, I sent a similar message and never heard back. It was a relief to even just see your name pop up.’ Then I remembered – the reason this client came to me was because they had been horribly let down by another editor, who had just disappeared on them after taking payment.

Editors like this exist, unfortunately. Outright scammers, or just unreliable people who have no idea how to act in a professional manner. They can be found in every profession, and ours is no exception.

Most of the online editorial circles I move in are filled with people who would never dream of taking advantage of a client. They would be ashamed of doing a half-arsed job. They could never imagine ignoring a client for weeks on end. This kind of behaviour is so far from their own experience of being an editor that I think many of them don’t quite understand just how often this happens to unsuspecting authors, and how devastating it can be. So when they start working with a client who questions all their procedures and ways of working, or who bombards them with emails and requests for progress reports, those editors can see these things as signs of an overbearing client. To be fair, that’s sometimes exactly what they are. But sometimes they’re the sign of someone who’s been badly burned. Every editor, and every business owner, for that matter, should remember that not all clients are approaching the relationship with the same expectations and baggage.

I think that as editors we could sometimes do better when it comes to understanding our clients’ concerns. There are people out there doing great damage to the reputation of our profession, in the indie world at least, and there’s a lot we can do to undo some of that damage and restore our collective good name.

Freelancing is full of risk. Good business owners do what they can to protect themselves from those risks. But we need to be aware of the effect this might have on our potential clients. For example, you could ask the question ‘Should an author pay an editor in full before receiving the edited manuscript?’ in an editors’ group and a writers’ group, and you’d get two different sets of answers. Editors would lean towards ‘Always get payment first’, backed up with horror stories of being ripped off by clients. Authors would lean towards ‘Never pay first’, backed up with stories of being ripped off by editors. Both things happen. Both sets of concerns are legitimate.

The problem comes, then, when we start seeing the expression of these concerns as red flags, when they might be nothing of the sort. An editor might be the perfect person for an author’s work, but if both have been cheated with regard to payment in the past, and so the editor refuses to release the edits before payment, and the author refuses to pay before seeing the edits, they’re at an impasse. A potentially brilliant working relationship could be lost before it’s even begun.

I think the solution lies, as it so often does, in empathy, honesty and communication. Our clients are investing sometimes huge sums of money with us, and handing over a piece of work that could have taken them years. That’s a lot to trust a total stranger with, so we should respect that. Where we have developed practices to protect our businesses from risks, perhaps we could be better at explaining to clients why. We don’t have to, of course – we are entirely free to run our businesses as we see fit and only work with clients who accept that unquestioningly. But honesty and openness are generally good things, and we could be opening up great opportunities for ourselves by bringing more of those things into our interactions with potential clients.

And perhaps there is also room for compromise. Again, no one has to compromise on anything if they don’t want to. But are there ways we can protect ourselves while also allowing our clients to protect themselves? For example, I have recently decided to move to asking for payment before delivery of the full edited manuscript. But I recognise that this might make some new clients nervous, so I offer to send an edited chapter on request, any chapter of the client’s choosing, so they can be reassured I have actually done the work.

It can be a difficult thing, to give people the benefit of the doubt when the stakes are high. A non-paying client, or one who oversteps boundaries, can cause huge problems for an editor. But we aren’t the only party who has something to lose. I wrote once about editing with kindness. We can do business with kindness too.

 

Kia ThomasKia Thomas spent 11 years in the arts before becoming a freelance fiction editor at the beginning of 2016. She specialises in contemporary romance and is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP. Kia lives in South Tyneside, and she can often be found networking with her colleagues in online spaces (ie spending too much time on Twitter).

 

This article was originally published on Kia’s blog on 4 February 2020. Many thanks to Kia for granting permission to amend and republish it.


Photo credits: notebook Kiwihug, baggage – Waldemar Brandt, both on Unsplash

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.

Assume nothing, question everything

Five key questions to ask a potential client

By Jo Johnston

1. What services do you need?

Hands up who’s had a client asking for proofreading when they meant rewriting, or editing which later turned into needing a project manager to liaise with stakeholders?

Phew … glad it’s not just me.

Most of us editors can share funnies or horror stories about how a client has misunderstood something key during the briefing stage, or how we, as the supplier, may have failed to clarify something that later is glaringly obvious.

So if you offer more than one type of editorial service, double-check that your client understands the differences between them.

The definitions of copyediting and proofreading can vary from company to company, so don’t assume that just because the client is a communications professional, the definitions they use are identical to yours. And make sure you have the brief in writing in email or confirmed in a phone call, so that you can iron out any creases in understanding.

Takeaway: Include an outline of service definitions on your website or create a PDF handout to share at the briefing stage.

2. What’s the deadline and delivery method?

Some clients assume that you’re sitting around twiddling your thumbs waiting for their work to land; others understand that you may be juggling a range of projects.

So a vital first question is, ‘when’s the delivery date?’ Even if your client doesn’t have a date in mind, set one yourself. This gives you a goal to work towards and you can schedule in other work around the project – just as you would if you were working in-house.

Everyone has working preferences. So what format do they want to work in – Google Docs, Word, or PDFs? How do they want any amendments shown – as tracked changes and comments or edited directly in the document?

‘Assume nothing, question everything’ is the mindset you need when starting a new project.

Takeaway: Make sure that details such as the deadline or preferred way of working are listed in your project proposal.

3. Will you accept my rate and working terms?

Some freelancers say that they lack confidence when talking about the bees and honey, and let’s not even mention working terms.

It may be tempting to leave this bit until last, after you’ve established a good client relationship first, but don’t leave it so late that you’ve spent bags of time discussing the brief or even visited head office, only to find out that they won’t budge on your price and won’t sign your contract.

Being clear about prices upfront on your website could lead to an increase in higher quality clients. It may help to get rid of time-wasters or those trying to ‘pick your brains’.

Takeaway: State your rates and terms clearly and in writing, either on your website or project proposal.

4. Can you tell me about your target audience or how you will use the resource?

Most of the time, a copyeditor or proofreader is part of a much wider project team. You may have been drafted in at the last hurdle to make sure everything’s tickety-boo, or right from the beginning – as is often the case with developmental or substantive editing.

Whatever stage the project is at, you need to be brought up to speed. Find out who the project is aimed at and how it will be used. It will help you to do a much better job if you know why you’re doing it.

And don’t forget to include research within your project proposal – it’s perfectly OK to charge for background reading and familiarisation.

Takeaway: Ask to see a project brief, terms of reference or target audience research.

5. Can you give me feedback once the job is complete?

The job’s done and dusted. A week, a fortnight … darn it … a few months go by, and you’ve heard diddly-squat from your client.

One way to avoid this state of paralysis is by saying at the briefing stage that you’d like feedback once the work is complete. You may not feel you need this kind of reassurance, but you do need to make sure that the project is finished and won’t bounce back in six months.

Some clients are up against print deadlines and may not have time to respond – you’re not an employee after all. So it’s worth keeping all this in mind and not taking silence personally.

Takeaway: Get client feedback on the radar. It paves the way for you to ask for a testimonial in the future.


What are your key questions when liaising with a prospective client? Let us know how you go about starting a project.


SfEP Professional Member Jo Johnston has been working as a copywriter and editor for 20 years. She started off in the public and non-profit sectors, but now helps to finesse the marketing work of all business types from ambitious start-ups to global giants. As part of its social media team, Jo posts professionally as the SfEP on LinkedIn. Elsewhere on social media, she unashamedly shares countless photos of her beloved Labrador.

 


Photo credits: Trees Evan Dennis, Laptop – Markus Spiske, both on Unsplash; Mabel the Labrador – Jo Johnston.

Proofread by Alice McBrearty, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.

 

 

 

 

Over the limit: reducing the word count

By Claire Bacon

Most journals impose word limits on the articles they publish. Saying the same thing in fewer words not only increases an article’s chances of being accepted for publication, but also makes it easier to read. In this blog post, I explain how to reduce the word count in a research paper to keep the journal editor and the readers happy.

Wordy phrases

Replace wordy phrases with concise alternatives. For example:

  • Explained instead of accounted for the fact that
  • Now instead of at this point in time
  • Many instead of a large number of
  • Because instead of due to the fact that.

You can also avoid wordiness by choosing the right verbs. For example, the active voice uses fewer words than the passive voice:

The questionnaire was completed by the participants. (passive voice; 7 words)

Participants completed the questionnaire. (active voice, 4 words)

Nominalisation (changing verbs/adjectives into nouns) also introduces unnecessary passive verbs into your sentences. Use verbs that tighten your text:

A positive correlation between drug use and recovery time was observed. (11 words)

Drug use correlated positively with recovery time. (7 words)

This would lead to a reduction in patient mortality. (9 words)

This would reduce patient mortality. (5 words)

Using single verbs instead of phrasal verbs can also reduce the word count. For example:

We cut down on the amount of drug administered over time. (phrasal verb; 11 words)

We reduced the amount of drug administered over time. (single verb; 9 words)

You can cut this down even further by choosing more appropriate words:

We reduced the drug dosage.

The first person

Using first person pronouns (I, we, me, my, mine, us, our) is a great way to emphasise the author’s perspective and engage the reader. But the first person isn’t always suitable. Take a look at the following example:

We discovered that regular exercise reduced stress levels in healthy participants.

This is not an effective use of the first person. Keep the tone objective when describing results – and doing so will use fewer words:

Regular exercise reduced stress levels in healthy participants.

Redundant information

Delete any words that do not contribute important information. Prepositional phrases (groups of words without subjects or verbs) are often redundant and can be deleted without changing the meaning. For example:

  • Large instead of large in size
  • Round instead of round in shape
  • Red instead of red in colour.

Also check whether the modifiers in the article are necessary. For example:

Careful hemodynamic monitoring is necessary to prevent tissue hypoxia during cardiac surgery. (Nobody will infer that careless hemodynamic monitoring is acceptable if you delete careful.)

Extensive inclusion criteria were used to define the target population. (The inclusion criteria will be presented, so no need to tell the reader they are extensive.)

Double negatives are also redundant – and unclear. For example:

Although the difference was small, it was statistically significant

is shorter and clearer than

Although the difference was small, it was not statistically insignificant.

Filler phrases such as it has been shown that, it is widely accepted that, and it should be noted that are often redundant, but can be used sparingly to guide a reader through the author’s evolving argument.

Be specific

Concrete language is often more concise than abstract language. It also makes writing easier to understand. For example:

Patients with pancreatic cancer were examined by oncologists.

is specific and less wordy than

Patients with pancreatic cancer were examined by appropriately qualified medical personnel.

Use tables and figures

Save space by presenting large amounts of data in a table. Remove any redundant information (eg a column headed Sex is not necessary if all participants were female) and put units in the headings or footnotes rather than in each data field.

Don’t repeat yourself

Avoid repetition. Unnecessary adjectives are a common culprit – for example, past history, end result, advance planning, in actual fact, various different. Adverbs can be repetitive too – definitely proved, completely eliminate, may possibly, repeat again. Check whether adjectives and adverbs give new information. If not, delete them.

Do not repeat information from tables and figures in the text. A brief reference to what the figure or table is showing is sufficient. For example:

We collected data on age, sex, BMI, use of hormonal contraceptives, and Becks Depression Inventory score for all patients (Table 1)

is wordy and redundant. Try:

Patient characteristics are presented in Table 1.

Emphasise with care – intensifiers don’t always add meaning: exactly the same, absolutely essential, extremely significant, and very unique are all examples of redundant intensifiers and can be deleted.

Avoid continuous tenses

The continuous tenses indicate that something is ongoing. They are usually best avoided in research papers because they force unnecessary use of the verb to be. For example:

We measured creatinine levels in patient urine (simple past tense)

is concise and easier to read than

We were measuring creatinine levels in patient urine. (past continuous tense)

Abbreviations

Abbreviations can make text concise because they avoid repetition of long words. Many scientific words are better known by their abbreviations, such as DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and PCR (polymerase chain reaction). These abbreviations improve the flow and clarity of the writing and usually do not need to be defined:

Patient DNA was amplified by PCR

will be understood by most readers. However, non-standard abbreviations should be defined when first used:

The SN, SC, and IC are components of the MB

is impossible to understand. The reader needs to know what the abbreviations mean:

The substantia nigra (SN), superior colliculus (SC), and inferior colliculus (IC) are part of the midbrain (MB).

Don’t define abbreviations more than once in the main text. Abbreviations will only reduce the word count if they are used consistently after they are defined.

Be ruthless with your red pen

Authors are often reluctant to delete the words they have taken so much time to write. But cutting unnecessary information from a paper will draw attention to the important content. If time allows, put an article to one side for a while before deciding what to delete. This will make awkward phrases and irrelevant information easier to spot. Following the tips outlined in this article will help you decide what needs to go to get the word count under the journal’s limit.

 

Claire Bacon is a former research scientist and an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP. She edits manuscripts for non-native English-speaking scientists and works as a copyeditor for The Canadian Journal of Anesthesia.

This article was published on Claire’s blog on 23 October 2019. Many thanks to Claire for granting permission to amend and republish it.


If you’re interested in learning more about helping authors to make their writing more clear and concise, then consider taking the SfEP’s Plain English for Editors course.


Photo credits: You choose your words – Brett Jordan on Unsplash; Books – Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash

Proofread and posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.

Editing memoir, life writing and creative non-fiction

At this year’s SfEP conference, writer Emma Darwin led a workshop that was mainly focused on non-fiction authors, but the many questions discussed are relevant to both authors and editors. Loulou Brown summarises Emma’s key things to consider when working through a text.

Creative life-writing/creative non-fiction uses the techniques of fiction to write real, non-fictional stories. Non-fiction work presents real life. It informs, summarises and reports, and separates facts from inferences and guesses. It is explicitly factually ‘true’, including uncertainties and gaps, and it acknowledges influences and assumptions.

The author should consider why they want to write about a particular subject, and what is at stake. It is then necessary to think about the project to be worked on.

  • What is important?
  • What will the project contain?
  • Whose story is it?
  • Who are the important people?
  • Where are the important places?
  • When do the important historical events take place?
  • What gets told and how?
  • Is there more than one story; if so, how are they related?
  • What might the ‘spine’ or ‘backbone’ of the narrative be?
  • What will the ‘vertebrae’ be?
  • Where does the author start?
  • Where does the author finish?

The author needs to decide the following:

  • What will their personal rule-book be for when to do what?
  • How will fictional techniques help to make the non-fiction material compelling?
  • Where are the gaps and ‘awkwardnesses’: in facts, causes and motivation; in thoughts, feelings and physical experiences? How will these be filled or bridged?
  • How will discrepancies be acknowledged and resolved, or discrepancies be acknowledged and left to lie?
  • How will explicit inferences, guesses and explanations be made?
  • How will they imagine, reinvent or alter?

The narrative is very important and the following issues need to be considered:

  • Who is doing the narrating?
  • How will the narrative put flesh on the spine?
  • Who or what is the narrative centred on?
  • How will the narrator draw the reader along the spine?
  • Where is the narrator ‘standing’, relative to the events?
  • What will the narrative evoke, dramatise, show?
  • Where will the narrative inform, summarise, tell?

Narrative techniques:

  • Using a narrator or storyteller and actors in the story.
  • Interweaving different timelines.
  • Working with point-of-view.
  • Showing versus telling (evoking/telling the reader; informing/explaining).
  • Working with voice and tone.
  • Working with psychic distance.

The author needs to think about his or her readers and consider the following questions:

  • Who is going to read what is written?
  • Will the journey be worth the reader’s time and money?
  • What is at stake for the reader?
  • How will the writer engage the reader?
  • Why should the reader care?
  • How is the reader convinced by what the writer is saying?

Emma listed a number of features that can go wrong with the manuscript. Editors should carefully take note of these potential problems.

  • The voice is not compelling enough.
  • The reader doesn’t care about what is being said.
  • The text is confusing, irritating, or too quiet, too noisy, too slow, too long, or too short, or too rushed.
  • The storytelling is jerky.
  • There is a ‘soggy’ middle.
  • The story fizzles out.
  • Although competent, the story is dull.
  • The text is over-written.
  • The text is under-written.
  • There are repetitions.
  • There is too much description.
  • There is too much introspection.

Emma ended her workshop with a list of potential problems that might arise between authors and publishers.

  • The publisher says that the author’s voice is dull and clunky.
  • The publisher gets frustrated because the author cannot remember what the publisher considers to be important incidents.
  • The publisher is irritated that the author won’t tell the ‘best’ bits.
  • The publisher is annoyed that the author finds it very difficult to write about important incidents.
  • The publisher is bored because the author feels it necessary to write about incidents in great detail.
  • The publisher is cross because the author over-explains events.
  • The publisher is peeved because the author doesn’t put in enough detail.
  • The publisher is upset because the author resists any restructuring.
  • The publisher is furious because the author balks at fairly drastic changes.
  • The publisher gives up when the author resists all changes to the text.
  • The author becomes paranoid when the publisher wants the text to be sexier.
  • The author is upset that the publisher does not appear to understand what they are writing about, given the changes the publisher wants to make to the text.
  • The author hates major restructuring of the text that they have worked on for years.
  • The author is disgusted that the publisher appears to be interested only in how much money the book will make and does not appear to be interested in the content of what has been written.
  • The author has a seizure when the publisher pushes hard for delivery of the text.

Loulou Brown is a professional member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. She has an MA in women’s studies and an MA in English literature. She specialises in editing academic work in the humanities and social sciences and has also edited a lot of biographies and autobiographies. Her major interest is in editing fiction and she has recently become an associate editor at Bloodhound Books, a crime fiction publisher.

Emma Darwin has published four books: two novels, The Mathematics of Love, and A Secret Alchemy; and a ‘how to’ manual, Get Started in Writing Historical Fiction. Her latest work, published this year, is a memoir about her family: This Is Not a Book about Charles Darwin. She has an MPhil in writing at the University of South Wales and has completed a PhD in creative writing at Goldsmiths, University of London.


Read more conference session summaries in the November/December edition of Editing Matters (free to members).


Proofread by Emma Easy, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.

Photo credits: Light bulbs  Skye Studios on Unsplash; Pen on book Aaron Burden on Unsplash.

‘You spend all day reading?’ Why we need the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading

All events in this blog post are based on true experiences, as reported by editorial professionals. However, details have been changed to protect the identities of not only the editors but also their friends, family and contacts. Thanks to everyone who volunteered their stories.


It’s 8.30am on a typical Wednesday morning. I’ve been up for two hours and, after hanging out all the laundry and getting the kids up and off to school, I finally sit down at my desk and check my To Do list. Today, I have a specialist journal article and its references to edit, six people’s comments and corrections to collate on a textbook’s second proofs and a weekly catchup meeting with an in-house project manager. I smile to myself. I love my job and I’m still basking in the happy news that soon the SfEP will become the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading.

I check the 15 emails I’ve received overnight. The author of the article has sent a new version with 2,000 extra words and 15 new references but hasn’t used Track Changes so I can’t immediately tell what’s different. One of the consultants on the textbook has asked for the chapters to be reordered. I settle down to work.

9am: An email arrives from a marketing agency. ‘Here’s a PDF of our latest brochure. It just needs a final proofread by lunchtime.’ Apparently, by ‘final proofread’, they mean complete restructure using different words. I respond explaining, as I did last time they made the same request, that the level of changes required means it would have been quicker and cheaper for everyone if I’d have been able to edit the text in Word before it was set in InDesign. They ask how much this would cost. I give them my standard copyediting rate, which reflects my years of continuing professional development and experience. They reply that their budget doesn’t stretch to more than half that amount for such a simple task – after all, they haven’t spotted any typos in the leaflet. I politely decline the job so that I can maintain my professional integrity (and, by extension, that of the SfEP).

9.30am: The email reminds me that I used to do a lot of work for another agency, so I call my contact there. He apologetically tells me that all editing and proofreading is now handled in-house to save money. The new boss had questioned why external editors were charging twice for doing one job. My contact had tried to explain that copyediting and proofreading were two different aspects of a thorough editorial approach but the boss now gives all the ‘checking’ to a marketing assistant with an English degree. My contact confides that they’ve made a few mistakes in their marketing material recently that have ‘negatively impacted their brand perception key indicators’.

11am: My edit is interrupted by the phone. I consider not answering but it’s my mother and there might be a family emergency.

Mum: ‘Hello! I was going to phone your sister about this, but I don’t like ringing her when she’s at work. Are you working?’
Me: ‘Yes, Mum. I’m always working at this time.’
Mum: ‘Ha ha, yes, you work too hard! I do wish you’d start actually using your qualifications, though, after you spent all that time studying. What job do you say you do again? You’re a word processor or something?’
Me: ‘I’m a copyeditor.’
Mum: ‘When are you going to become a real editor? Anyway, I called to tell you …’ [Long story of exactly zero importance or urgency ensues about some relative I don’t know.]
Me: ‘Mmm … uh huh … really? … Oh dear … yes … I mean no, that’s terrible!’ [Trying to sound interested and maintain work mode.]
Mum: ‘Are you listening to me?’
Me: ‘Well, actually, I’ve got this deadline …’
Mum: ‘Well, why didn’t you say so?’

12.30pm: The doorbell rings. I think it’s the postie needing me to sign for a contract I’m expecting by registered post so I answer the door. It turns out to be a friend holding a homemade cake.

Friend: ‘Hi! I was just passing and I knew you’d be at home so I thought I’d pop in for a quick coffee.’
Me: ‘Er, it’s nice to see you but I actually have a deadline today.’
Friend: ‘Oh, I’ll only be half an hour. It’s lunchtime! Time for a break!’

She walks in and casts a critical eye on the unwashed breakfast dishes.

Friend: ‘Oh, I could never work from home! I’d get too distracted by the housework!’
Me: [Ahem, clearly that’s not my problem …] ‘If I spent all day doing the housework, I wouldn’t get paid.’
Friend: ‘Oh, come on, your husband has a good job. You don’t need to work!’
Me: ‘Editing is my career. It’s taken me years to get to where I am now.’ [To gain the skills, experience and contacts to get a steady stream of work and become an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP.]
Friend: ‘So which book are you reviewing at the moment?’
Me: ‘I’ve told you before, I’m not a reviewer, I’m an editor. I don’t comment on it, I fix it. Reviewing and editing are different jobs.’
Friend: ‘Oh, so you just run spellchecks all day? Beats a real job! Right, no more time to chat – I’m off to my Pilates class.’

I’d been planning on a walk round the block but I don’t have time now so I get back to work.

3pm: I go to pick up the kids from school. A mother I’ve never spoken to corners me.

Her: ‘You’re a proofreader aren’t you?’
Me (warily): ‘Well, I’m mainly an editor but yes, I do proofread …’
Her: ‘I’ve decided to become a proofreader too. I’m always spotting mistakes in books. There was a typo in the crime novel I’m reading. If you’ve got any overspill work, let me know!’
Me: ‘I don’t suppose you’ve got half a day to edit 1,500 references into Chicago style and cross-check them against the citations?’
Her: ‘Um.’

A father has been listening in.

Him: ‘You’re a proofreader? I didn’t know that was still a thing. Do they actually employ people just to do that stuff? Isn’t there software for that?’
Me: ‘Yes, my brain.’
A nearby childminder looks scandalised: ‘You spend all day reading? Flipping through books? Nice for some – the rest of us have work to do!’

With perfect timing, my youngest child rushes out of the classroom and announces that he got 100% in his English comprehension test. The adults are suddenly silent.

3.30pm: As I get home, a neighbour comes over to chat. I ask how her husband is after his recent operation.

Neighbour: ‘I think he’s all right but I’ve not been able to get over to see him in hospital today. I was hoping Roger opposite would give me a lift – he works from home like you, you know, but he’s a man. He’s not got to ferry his kids around all day like you do.’
Me: ‘Perhaps he’s contracted to work certain hours. If he’s self-employed, he might even work longer hours than people with office jobs.’
Neighbour: ‘But he’s got time to walk his dog! Oh, by the way, here’s your copy of the charity cookery book you helped with.’

Inside the house, I eagerly look at the book. I’d voluntarily spent hours laying out pages, sourcing illustrations and explaining how to pay for them, warning them of copyright infringement and copyediting the recipes. The acknowledgements merely thank me for sorting out the author’s grammar.

4.30pm: An email arrives from a graduate student, for whom English is a second language. ‘I have just finished writing my MSc dissertation and need some urgent editing and academic proofreading work done. It’s about 70,000 words. This may be the final proofreading I do before submission this week by Friday.’ I politely decline.

5pm: I’ve put my focusing skills to use today and made quite a bit of progress, despite everything. I take a quick look at Facebook. A friend is starting up a small business and asks about GDPR and how tax is handled by sole traders. I send her a copy of my GDPR policy and a quick outline of the HMRC self-assessment process. She’s grateful for my help and messages back, ‘You’re wasted as a proofreader! I didn’t know you knew about this sort of thing! I thought you were just a language pedant. Is that how you spell pedant? I’m scared you’re going to correct me!’ I respond, ‘Don’t worry, if you’re not paying me, I won’t correct you.’ She replies, ‘Oh, I was going to ask you to check my new web text but I’ll ask my English-teacher friend if you want paying for it.’

5.30pm: I’ve still got a few hours’ work to do, after all today’s interruptions. Just before I return to the endless references, I remind myself of the SfEP’s original rationale for chartership:

‘We want to see greater appreciation of the value of good editing (in its widest sense), based on recognised qualifications, high standards and an understanding of what editorial professionals do, with a commensurate rise in their status and pay.’ (www.sfep.org.uk/about/governance/aim-of-chartership)

It seems that, as a member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading, I’ll soon be taking another step in my ongoing public relations journey.


Photo credits: Man on sofa – Austin Distel on Unsplash; Head in book Siora Photography on Unsplash

Proofread by Victoria Hunt, Intermediate Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.